Coronavirus Update: Quarantine Life in Colombia

by Sasha Savinov

Just like a vast majority of the people on Earth, we are currently dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. We had to cancel all upcoming travel plans and are now living that quarantine life in Colombia.  I wanted to share an update about our situation and some thoughts on this whole crazy situation. Let’s start at the beginning of the year, which already feels like so much more than a few months ago.

With Coronavirus Since Day One

Since we teach English online to Chinese kids, we’ve been following the coronavirus since the very beginning. The Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is usually the busiest travel time of the year in China. Our students usually take trips to visit family or go abroad on vacation. This year was different, though.

In the run-up to the Spring Festival, many of our students told us they had to cancel trips and stay at home because of the virus. It was in the news, but wasn’t really discussed in-depth.

live in China

Enjoying the Lantern Festival in China a few years ago…

Our students didn’t really know what to think or say about it. They just told us things like “people are sick” and “we can’t travel for Chinese New Year.”

In the coming weeks, they started telling us that their winter break was extended and that they wouldn’t be going to school. Many of them told us how they couldn’t even leave the house. They couldn’t go do the things they love like play football with friends or go to the park with their parents.

We felt really bad for them. I know as a kid it would have killed me to basically have Christmas canceled and to be stuck at home. Little did we know that the same thing would happen to us and most of the world before too long…

A Change of Plans

As we saw the situation continue to worsen in China and begin to spread to other countries, we knew this thing was serious. With entire cities shut down in China, it became clear that the coronavirus was no joke.

We’ve been in Colombia since the beginning of February. After a few weeks in Medellin, we traveled to Barranquilla for the Carnaval celebrations and then up the coast to Santa Marta and Playa Costeño. Little did we know it would likely be our last travel adventure for some time.

Rachel’s birthday on the beach!

We returned to Medellin and the same apartment for a month-long stay. As we usually do with month-long digital nomad stays, we went ahead and signed up for a gym, stocked up at the grocery store, and eased ourselves into a routine.

I also signed up for two weeks of classes to get out of the house a bit and improve my caveman Spanish. Learning languages is something I’m passionate about and I really enjoy it.

During our first week of group classes, there was a little talk of the virus. The other students were travelers who didn’t know what they were going to do. With a month in the city, I figured we didn’t really need to worry about it that much. Turns out I was very wrong!

Things really escalated quickly here in Colombia. They closed the borders, restricted flights and cruise ships, and shut down universities and big events. I was bummed there wouldn’t be a football game that weekend, but figured life would go on. After all, there weren’t that many cases in Colombia.

On Monday, I went to the gym and my first day of private classes. At the end of class, we were told that the school had to close the next day. Our gym followed suit, as did movie theaters, bars and clubs.

Colombia quickly moved to stop all incoming flights into the country. Even Colombians have not been allowed to return back. We had very little time and options to try and fly out. Plus, we had already paid for a full month’s rent here. We decided it was better to not add to the panic and to just stay put.

At least we have a nice view!

Our original plan was to leave Medellin on the 30th and take the boat trip to Panama via the San Blas Islands. It’s a trip we’ve been wanting to take for years and we even arranged a partnership with the company. I was also going to blog for Selina (the hotel that took me on the road trip last year) and visit their properties in Panama. So much for that…

There was a very brief window where we could have flown out of Colombia. We considered heading back to Puerto Vallarta earlier than planned but decided against it for various reasons. For one, Mexico has not been taking things seriously enough.

Going back to the US was also an option, but we opted not to after talking it over with our families. It didn’t seem smart to travel through several airports. Plus, we don’t have insurance back in the States…

Unfortunately, our travel insurance will no longer cover us for anything coronavirus-related next week. This is because there’s now a global level 3 travel advisory. We have the option to change to their new remote plan, which will continue to cover coronavirus-related treatments. I recommend checking it out if you have a remote team, even if it’s only 1-2 people. Click here to see their options.

We’re taking the quarantine seriously, are eating pretty healthy and doing exercise, and generally have strong immune systems so we’re not too worried about getting sick. Speaking of quarantine…

Quarantine Life

Before too long, Bogota announced it was going to have a weekend-long curfew put in place as practice. I saw the writing on the wall and figured Medellin was soon to follow. We took a few trips to the store that week to stock up on food in case it happened. I also made the wise call of ordering a yoga mat from a friend’s studio.

How hippies get ready for quarantine life…

Sure enough, the curfew happened. With it meant to start at 7PM on Friday, I headed out one last time. I had walked by this music shop on my way to and from the Spanish school, and decided to drop in to see if they were open.

I haven’t had a guitar in years, so I figured this was as good a time as any to pick one up! The store was empty save for two employees, who helped me find a nice small acoustic guitar with a backpack case that’s great for traveling.

From there, I headed to the big supermarket nearby to grab a few more things. It was a bit chaotic but people remained very civil. There was no panic buying of toilet paper here in Medellin. As for me, I panic bought some vodka and beers!

That afternoon, we took a walk around town to get some exercise and sun before being trapped inside for four days. A little robot cart delivered us face masks and rubber gloves to help us prepare for quarantine life.

A lot of our favorite bands teamed up to start a new series called Live From Out There. They’re streaming previous concerts as well as live streams over the next six weeks. We ordered the full pass to support them – this whole coronavirus thing is really doing a number on our beloved music industry, so we’re doing what we can to keep the tunes coming!

We made a nice dinner and some “quaran-tinis” and settled in for a night of music. A few hours in to the city-wide curfew, the president of Colombia announced that a nation-wide curfew would start immediately after and last for 19 days. Our 4-day quarantine quickly became a 23-day one.

We’ve been digital nomads for almost 5 years now and are very used to working from home. While we occasionally use co-working spaces and cafes in Medellin and other cities, we mostly set up shop and work in our apartment.

This is my classroom!

We’re also used to sharing close quarters and being together 24/7, but this apartment isn’t exactly the most comfortable for that. My “classroom” is set up on an ironing board with a plastic lawn chair. My work space in the living room is also our dining room table. The futon is quite possibly the least comfortable place to sit ever created. It’s not exactly the best set-up for “quarantine and chill.”

At first, it seemed like we would have a day in between the curfews where we could move. The government realized the chaos that might ensue if there was a “free day” in between the curfews, so they changed the time so that one went right into the other. We were officially stuck.

For this 24-day curfew, only one of us is allowed to leave the house at a time. We can only go out for essentials and we need to carry our passport to prove that we’re not breaking mandatory self-isolation that other travelers are in.

I’ve left the house twice in the last week – once to pay rent at the ATM across the street and once to go back to the store. I loaded up on food and picked up some more quarantine juice (aka Irish whiskey).

Some restaurants are still open and are running deliveries. After cooking every meal for us for the past 10 days or so, I finally ordered a pizza tonight!

A Typical Day

A typical day in quarantine life looks like this for us – we wake up at 5AM and teach 4-5 classes each. I whip up a smoothie or a light breakfast for us, then I take a nice siesta while Rachel gets to work on her course.

Rachel’s work set up here in Medellin.

When I get up, I make a fresh pot of coffee and some food. I usually put on the PBS Newshour or The Daily podcast to catch up with the situation, although I take a day off here and there. It’s important to stay informed, but too much news can be detrimental at the moment.

In the afternoon, we take turns using the yoga mat to get a workout in. We follow Yoga With Adrienne on YouTube and highly recommend her. I’m on Day 12 in a row out of her 30 day challenge and am loving it! Rachel just follows a playlist of hers with different types of yoga routines.

Yoga has been a big help.

There are also plenty of great home workout videos that you don’t need equipment for. I did one the other day and am still sore from it! I’ve seriously been hobbling around the apartment for the past few days. Doing exercise definitely helps a lot and I think it’s something very important to keep in mind.

For at least an hour a day, I’ve been sitting out on the porch playing guitar. I can’t believe I went so long without one and am so happy to be playing again. I hope to do a live stream where I play some songs for you guys sooner than later! Stay tuned…

In the evenings, we cook up a little dinner and relax for a bit before teaching a few more classes. So many bands are doing free live streams during the week now, so we put those on for a bit after class to jam out and unwind. That about does it for our quarantine life in Colombia!

How We’re Coping

If you know me, you know I don’t like to sit still. I have very, very itchy feet. Staying cooped up in the house for days at a time is not my idea of a good time, to say the least.

I’m so happy that I ordered the yoga mat and bought the guitar. Without these two things, I think I would have gone insane by now. It also helps that we have a little balcony, so we can still “go outside.” Sitting out there strumming some Phish and the Grateful Dead on my guitar is something I look forward to every day.

Jammin’

Meanwhile, Rachel has been super busy preparing to launch her course. It’s all about teaching English online, which is going to be a great resource for people in these trying times.

While so many are out of work at the moment, we’ve been fortunate enough to still have a packed schedule full of students. I taught 40 classes this past week and Rachel was just a few behind.

If you’re interested in learning more about teaching English online, join one of her live masterclasses this week. There’s one on Tuesday at 3PM ET and another on Wednesday at 8PM. Click here to sign up.

One thing I must say is that we’re starting to see the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Our students – many of whom have been inside for 50+ days – are finally starting to go back out.

Many of them are going back to school on April 6th. One of my diehard regulars was so excited the other day because he got to play football for the first time in months.

There is hope for the countries who are now dealing with the coronavirus. That is, of course, if people stay the F at home! If I can do it, you can, too!

A military helicopter flying over the city, blaring a message about the curfew.

Speaking of hope, every single night since the curfew started here in Medellin people have been going out on their balconies or hanging out their windows at 8PM sharp to give a round of applause for healthcare and emergency aid workers.

We join in when we’re not teaching at that time and explain the noise to our students if we are. Having been in quarantine for some time and dealing with the virus for several months, they can certainly relate!

One thing that’s been great has been catching up with family and friends on video calls. The other night we got Rachel’s family together on a Zoom call. Even her grandparents managed to get it working with a little tech support! We also caught up with friends in Puerto Vallarta, New York, and Chicago, and my brother in the Philippines.

If anyone wants to hang out on a video chat one of these days, just let us know. We have plenty of time on our hands and we’re happy to have the distraction!

Final Thoughts

These are unprecedented times we’re living in. Rachel keeps saying it feels like we’re living in some bad sci-fi movie, and it sure feels like it. All of the things we love have been completely shut down – travel, live music, sporting events.

They’re going to do WrestleMania in an empty training center this year! Just two years ago, we were partying it up in New Orleans with 80,000 other wrestling fans. Our beloved Summer Camp Music Festival has been postponed several months, and we’re worried about what’s going to happen with our other summer plans.

Waiting it out here in the Spring City.

At the moment, there’s nothing we can do but sit and wait. It feels odd, but the best thing most of us can do right now is just stay home. Write, draw, exercise, read, listen to music, play music, catch up with friends, organize your crap, clean, binge watch TV shows, cook, learn a language – there are plenty of things to occupy your time and mind!

While it would be so easy to sit here and whine and complain about being stuck inside and our plans getting canceled, we realize we are incredibly fortunate. We have a roof over our head, a kitchen full of food, technology to keep in touch with friends and family, and work that’s keeping us busy and fulfilled. We also have each other and will make it through this quarantine life together.

Where in the world are you? What’s the situation like there? How are you coping with these difficult times? We’d love to hear from you! We’re all in this together. Stay home now so we can party together later everyone! Now go wash your hands.

4 comments

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4 comments

Charlene April 8, 2020 - 5:53 pm

Charlene from Calgary, Canada here, where spring has forgotten to arrive (in fact, it’s still snowing!). Only essential businesses remain open here (mostly pharmacies and grocery stores). My husband works at a car dealership and they are open in case an emergency vehicle needs repairs. All public gatherings of more than 15 people are banned (including funerals and weddings) and we have strict orders to stay 6 feet away from the nearest person, if we must leave the house at all. The city has shut down all activities/events (such as charity walk/runs, libraries, rec centers, playgrounds, and skate parks) until the end of June. I am working from home, but just got word that my contract will be cut short on April 15 (instead of Sept 30). Then I will become a full-time homeschool mom to our five-year-old daughter. Thankfully, our federal government has put financial assistance programs in place to help independent contractors like myself, who don’t qualify for regular unemployment. Because I have asthma, I have been avoiding people since the beginning of March (I don’t need pneumonia on top or it). My husband does all of the grocery shopping for our family once a week. Grocery stores have lines outside and everyone must stand 6 feet apart while waiting to enter. We could order food and supplies online, but right now the wait time to get a curbside pickup time is about a week. Life sure is different! By the way, I have been following you guys for a while and love hearing about your adventures! Stay safe!!

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Sasha Savinov April 13, 2020 - 6:30 pm

Thanks for the detailed reply about the situation in Canada. It’s good to see that people are taking it very seriously. Also happy to hear you’re getting financial assistance. Supposedly we’re each going to get a one-time check but I read earlier it may not come until August for those of us who are self-employed. Also not sure that we’re eligible for any type of unemployment as we’re still working, although we’ve lost a lot of work lately. Hope you guys stay safe up there and thanks for following along with our posts. It’s always great to hear from people who have been reading a while!

Reply
MICHAEL SCOTT March 31, 2020 - 10:04 am

Thanks for catching us up! We feel the tension eased by positive thinking! Love you guys …

Mike and Lana.

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Rachel Story April 5, 2020 - 5:01 pm

Hey, Mike! Thanks for reading the post 🙂 We’re finding comfort in the power of positivity! We’ve spent more time catching up with friends through Zoom calls in the last few weeks than ever before. It’s really nice seeing so many familiar faces even if it is through a screen. Hope you guys are holding up alright. So much love to both of you! <3

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